Realizations about business

I used to work for a web design shop during the highs and lows of the internet bubble. When I first started, we were hiring every kid who could string two href’s together because work was coming our way, more than we could handle. It was great! We had parties, ate fancy lunches, and drove around in our clients VC-funded Jaguars while dreaming how we were subverting the dominant paradigm and creating money out of thin air.

Then came the dark times, when all those clients of ours went belly-up and our fellow web design shops started closing. It became very difficult to sell our services. We had to lay off everyone who was just barely average, and several people who were really good, but whose skills were not much in demand. We thought we were going to go under.

However, our organization was led by someone who knew business, and his team took up the task of teaching the rest of us. Instead of Friday afternoon beer bashes, we started to have team financial reviews. We spent time learning about our customers, what their needs were, and how to satisfy those needs. We learned how to sell ourselves, and our company prospered.

I learned about the very big difference between the business and the art/craft of what we did.

Business is a competition. To win requires more than slapping on the label of “professional”, and much more than merely being good at your craft. As a businessperson, it’s part of your job to figure out your customers’ needs, and what they are willing to pay money for. You also have to look at your competition, and see how you can differentiate yourself.

Do you need to educate your customers about your offering? Do you need to find a different niche? What is your value proposition, that ephemeral thing that makes people feel good about buying something from you?

You cannot compete on the basis of “I’m a professional” alone. You cannot compete by complaining about the competition, or scoffing at how ignorant your (potential) customers are. Pissing off your customers by being arrogant or whiny does not make them want to pay for your product.

There are people out there who will pay money for what you do – but they usually do so only if they save time, if you are offering an experience or product that they can’t easily get for free, or if they feel GOOD about paying you.